BILLINGS- Lighted tepees were set up at Swords Park to be a "Beacon of Hope," according to the director of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council. The tepees will be there through January 2.

Director William Snell Jr. said , "We call this 'The Lighting of the Tepees, Beacons of Hope.' It's for hope and healing." Snell added that the tepees are for anyone who has lost a loved one during the pandemic, either from COVID-19 or another illness, as well as for those who are currently ill.

People are welcome to put rocks around the tepees to honor someone they've lost or someone who is sick.

"When we first started putting up the tepees, people started bringing rocks," said Snell. "And, then, it just kind of caught on. And, everyday new rocks are put up. It's been an unbelievable response."

Budget Specialist for RMTLC Rebecca Bright Wings said her family has been personally affected by the pandemic. Her father-in-law passed away from COVID-19 on December 14.

"My children were heartbroken. We're all heartbroken," said Bright Wings.

On Tuesday, December 29, the council also placed flags in front of the tepees. They put up a flag of the United States, a flag of Montana, and 12 flags for the 12 tribes represented by the council: Blackfeet Tribe of Browning Montana, Confederate Salish & Kootenai Tribe of Pablo, Flathead Montana, Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy Montana, Fort Belknap Tribe (Gros Ventre (Aaniiih) & Assiniboine (Nakoda) Nation) of Harlem/Hays Montana, Fort Peck Tribe (Assiniboine) of Poplar Montana, Crow Tribe (Apsaalooke) of Crow Agency Montana, Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Lame Deer Montana, Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana, Eastern Shoshone Tribe of Wyoming, Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Idaho, and Piikani Nation of Canada.

Snell said, "I think it's really important that people see that these nations are really struggling with this COVID-19."